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June 3, 2010: News & Views


Robert Olmstead.
Photo by Molly Uline-Olmstead

Robert Olmstead’s Coal Black Horse Gallops Toward New Recognition
Civil War novel joins the 2011 Choose to Read Ohio booklist

Professor Robert Olmstead’s Coal Black Horse, published in 2007, continues to garner honors—the latest being inclusion on Choose to Read Ohio’s 2011 booklist. Choose to Read Ohio (CTRO) is a project of the State Library of Ohio, in partnership with the Ohioana Library Association, the Ohio Center for the Book, Kent State University, the Ohio Channel, WOSU, and Ohio’s public libraries. CTRO spotlights Ohio authors and encourages promotes reading throughout the state. The program is adaptable for use in classrooms, libraries, bookstores, book clubs, families, and community groups.

The booklist features 20 adult, young adults, and children’s titles by authors native to, resident of, or affiliated with Ohio. CTRO will promote these titles from fall 2010 through all of 2011. The promotional toolkits under development will include book descriptions, author biographies, discussion questions for book groups, and other resources that will enhance sharing of the books’content.

The other four titles on the Choose to Read Ohio adult booklist are The Lost Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini; Blood of the Prodigal: An Amish-Country Mystery by P.L. Gaus; All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House by David Giffels; and Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper.

Prior to its being selected for the CTRO booklist, Coal Black Horse won the 2007 Heartland Prize for fiction and the 2008 Ohioana Book Award for fiction; it also was a finalist for the Southern Independent Bookseller Alliance (SIBA) Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In 2008, the book was selected by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for its year-long On the Same Page Cincinnati program. In addition, it was both a #1 Book Sense and Borders Original Voices pick.

The continuing popularity of Coal Black Horse, which is set during the Civil War, might lie in its simplicity, Olmstead says. “It’s an uncomplicated story about a young boy, Robey Childs, sent to the battlefield to bring his father home. On the way, he sees and struggles with good and evil. But while it’s simple, the theme is as old as The Odyssey—leaving home and trying to get back again. In this case, it’s a child’s journey, but even though he’s caught up in the whirlwind of a great national event, he’s not defined by his powerlessness or weakness or inability, just because he’s young. He’s a 14-year-old boy who’s stepping up. He’s going to face a lot, but he has a great deal of strength. He’ll get it done.”

Coal Black Horse is the first book in a trilogy. The second, Far Bright Star, deals again with the Childs family—this time Napoleon Childs—as he leads an expedition of inexperienced soldiers into Mexico to search for Pancho Villa and bring him to justice. After the mission fails, Childs is left to die. As he attempts to survive in the desert, he seeks to make sense of a life of war. The last of the trilogy, which will be delivered to the publisher in September, is Cold Dark Night, which finds Robey Childs’ grandson at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, one of the hardest-fought battles of the Korean War.

“These books are in some ways about the inheritance of war,” Olmstead says. “We often look at war globally, but war is the legacy of families as well as of countries. In all countries, there are family histories in which it is a heritage to be a soldier—a warrior. War is often passed down through a family.”

Click here for more information about the writings of Robert Olmstead.

– Gretchen Hirsch